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Adam, Eve and the Serpent (Vintage) [Paperback]

Elaine Pagels
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

30 Sep 1989 Vintage
Deepens and refreshes our view of early Christianity while casting a disturbing light on the evolution of the attitudes passed down to us.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 189 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books; Vintage Books ed edition (30 Sep 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679722327
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679722328
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 13.4 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 980,289 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All things old are new again... 4 Nov 2004
By Kurt Messick HALL OF FAME
Elaine Pagels is perhaps best known as the author of the popular text, `The Gnostic Gospels', highlighting a lesser known arena in early Christian history. Her reputation is somewhat controversial, as is her writing, but one thing is certain - she is a good writer, interesting to read, and she will make her readers think. This particular book, `Adam, Eve and the Serpent' deals with issues surrounding sexuality and gender, a hot topic in the social and cultural situations of today, but similarly of concern throughout much of Christian history. There is a tug-of-war between `traditional values' (leaving aside that there are various traditions) and `revisionist' or `modern' ideas, and few are in agreement over where the boundaries should be drawn.
Pagels explores some of the ways in which these traditional roles of gender and patterns of sexual expression arose to become so powerfully ingrained in western Christian society. To this day, most people make the appeal to the early chapters of Genesis both as the paradigm for what God intended for the world as well as the explanation, if not the actual instance, of sin and evil encroaching upon the world. Pagels begins with a copy of the first few chapters of Genesis, and traces ways in which ancient Jewish and early Christian communities interpreted these chapters.
Each chapter in Pagel's book highlights a particular theme. The first chapter looks at the understanding of Jewish culture of the early Genesis stories that would have formed the world view of Jesus, Paul, and the other apostles and church leaders, all of whom were born and raised into this Jewish culture.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Elaine Pagels' knowledge of the development of Christianity during its first four centuries is very much in evidence in ADAM, EVE AND THE SERPENT as she describes the evolution of diverse interpretations of the Genesis creation stories held be succeeding generations of the new sect. The author writes with clarity and she has the ability to make difficult material seem understandable to those of us who are not academics.
In this book I learned more about the incredible assortment of beliefs prevalent within the early church. The vision of a simple and unified body of beginning Christians has apparently always been just a myth.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pagels at her lucid and stimulating best 31 May 2007
By Jeremy Bevan TOP 500 REVIEWER
Over the last twenty years, Elaine Pagels has consistently been one of the most interesting and thought-provoking writers on the diversity within early Christianity. She's at her stimulating best with this work, which is basically a history of how Genesis 1 - 3 was interpreted in the changing cultural and political circumstances of the first four centuries or so of the church. What emerges, perhaps most strongly in the last two chapters, is a fascinating picture of diverse, even competing, interpretations. Out of this ferment, one particular viewpoint - that of Augustine - comes to predominate, infused with pessimism about human nature and society, and gloomy as to the prospects for human willpower overcoming 'sin'. Against this view, Pagels sets more optimistic voices. While clearly not unsympathetic to the explanatory and psychological power of Augustine's ideas, the author makes a very clear and compelling case for recovering important insights from the thinking of maligned or forgotten figures such as Pelagius and Julian of Eclanum - the latter worthy of attention not least for his views on the positive value of the natural world. A really clear and engaging read, and a fascinating study in the politics of biblical interpretation.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Cause, or Just Coincidence? 3 Feb 2012
While Pagels often has interesting ideas, she sometimes lets her ideas become conclusions for which she then finds evidence, rather than letting the evidence lead to a conclusion. While her examples can be compelling in support of her theses, there is often a feeling that she could have chosen a different example that would not support her argument. Is it really a simplistic matter that the Catholic Church became hierarchical and oppressive as a result of it being adopted by the Roman Emperors? Sure, that influenced matters, but how can a hierarchical turn of mind in the culture that is an integral part of the Roman Empire be disregarded as a cause in itself? Was Latin adopted as the language of the liturgy because it was the language of the ruling class, or because it was the lingua franca of the Mediterranean world?
The discussion of the disagreements between Augustine and Pelagius (and the Pelagians) is fascinating and informative. Pagels is engaging when she is asking questions and analyzing. Her tendency to want to tie up all loose ends without offending anyone is annoying. Thus, her concluding sentence, where she attempts to say that all people, whatever their religious beliefs, are equal in the recognition of a "spiritual dimension in human experience." It sounds a bit like a Miss America contestant saying she wants world peace. I would add the criticism that her observation, however banal, may not be true.
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This is a brilliantly written, subversive little tome that would make Richard Dawkins purr with pleasure. Though she is very sympathetic to Christianity, any non-believer would see what a hash Christianity has made of the world for 2000 years.

Originally, according to the author, Jesus challenged the corrupt authorities and ushered in freedom of choice on a scale never before matched. Like the Jews who believed in free will, Jesus went further - you can and should, leave the trappings of the world and live a godly life. You could improve yourself. This challenge to authority worked to spread the faith - those conservatives could buy the message and envy the ascetics who lived a life dedicated to purity. Increasingly, the religion became anti-sex and intolerant. This reached its climax in St. Augustine who made up the doctrine of original sin.

This doctrine says that Adam and Eve's mistake corrupted the human race forever, and no matter what, baptism can't cure it. He won the scholarly debate against saner men, and the rest is history. This negativity has become Christianity's calling card ever since, and made the religion life destroying as a faith.

Pagels writes clearly and knows her sources - the truth emerges steadily over the course of 150 pages. I could not put it down. I came away impressed by her erudition, and convinced that religion - Christianity especially - played a role in making life even worse over the course of the centuries.

Read it and weep.
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